In the April 18, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader needs to get past the Glassdoor company reviews to find the truth about an opportunity.
I was recently asked to interview at a company that at first I was excited to have a chance at joining. Their industry is interesting and familiar to me, and the position itself is a great next step in my career.
After my interview was scheduled I did my due diligence and started doing research to prepare. Sh*t hit the fan when I got to employment reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.
Except for the one or two company-planted positive reviews, the clear majority for the past four years have been scathing and disheartening. To summarize: Employees say upper management rules with an iron fist, takes credit for employees’ successes, and compensation is not competitive.
I can understand a couple of bad reviews that might be from disgruntled people, but with a consistent theme delivered on multiple websites spanning a few years, I’m beginning to second-guess my effort.
My big question to you is: What is the best way to bring up my findings to learn the truth? I feel I absolutely have to ask because I not only want to see how they answer, but I also want to see if they own up to the need to change. I’m worried they’ll blacklist me for bringing it up, and I’ll never know whether the environment is truly terrible or not. I want to approach this with respect and good manners so that I don’t look like a bad seed trying to be planted.
How do I look behind the curtain? Is this worth the effort or should I just run now?
I wouldn’t trust Glassdoor to help me judge a company any more than I’d trust Indeed or LinkedIn to connect me with a job. (See Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?, LinkedIn: Just another job board and The Bogus-ness of Indeed.com.) All those websites make money when you keep looking for jobs — not when you find one!
I’d invest more effort to get the truth about this company firsthand, but only if the company passes the first test. So let’s cut to the chase.
The first test
I doubt you’d take this job in if the compensation is not competitive. So let’s get this deal-breaker out of the way because it may save you further effort and later frustration.
Since they asked you to interview, it’s incumbent on them to provide information you need. I’d ask about compensation before taking any more steps. It’s best to ask the hiring manager this question, but if HR is the best you can do, that’s fine.
Make a phone call. (Do not use e-mail. This is too important.)
How to Say It
“What’s the pay like for this job?”
That’s it. Do not elaborate. This simple, off-the-cuff, obvious question says it all. It’s friendly and it’s clear.
If they won’t give you a salary range, I’d thank them for their interest (always be polite) and explain that you can’t invest your time in interviews if you’re not all on the same salary page. If they decline to state a range and instead ask you your current salary or your desired range, I’d politely reply that they’re asking you to interview — and they need to confirm the salary range. (See The employer is hiding the salary!)
If they won’t tell you, you’re done.
Glassdoor reviews are not enough
I’m not a fan of company reviews, especially the way Glassdoor presents them. There’s no accountability. Anyone can post anything anonymously. Nonetheless, when strong criticism spans lots of time and multiple websites, you’re right to be concerned. Just remind yourself that every bit of the criticism could be wrong. Could. It probably isn’t, given the extent of it. But you seem to want to find out for yourself, so take the next step.
Since you’re still excited about the job as you understand it, it’s worth going in to find out for yourself what’s up. You don’t need to confront them with the online reviews. In fact, I would not, because consider their best defense. If I were the employer, I’d respond that those reviews are not proof of a problem and the critics are all hiding behind anonymity.
The company can quickly render your question as a fact-less accusation, and you’ll come off like a person who makes decisions and judgments without solid evidence. Glassdoor is not solid because critics are not personally accountable.
If you had nothing else to go on but all you’ve read, and you had to make a choice right now about this company, the prudent decision is probably to walk away. But you can get firsthand evidence on which to base a sound judgment — and you should, because online reviews are not enough to make a defensible judgment.
Killer methods to judge the employer
Here’s what I’d do. Go to the interview. Answer their questions, and ask the normal kinds of questions you’d ask even a very good company. Then use one or more of these killer employer-vetting techniques. Here’s what to ask the employer (preferably the hiring manager):
How to Say It
“If you could change anything about your company instantly, what would you change?”
See how they handle that. If they’re aware of their online reputation, it gives them a chance to explain without you actually bringing it up.
How to Say It
“I’d like to meet some of the people I’d be working with if I were hired, and I’m willing to invest some extra time to do that. I’d also like to see where I’d be working. Can you give me a cook’s tour of your facility? If today’s not a good time, I’d be glad to come back.” If they let you do this immediately, that’s a good sign. If they put it off, do they quickly schedule that next visit, or do they never get back to you?
Ask the employees
If you get the tour and have a chance to meet other employees on the team, try to get a few minutes with each one privately. Ask this question.
How to Say It
“So, what’s it really like to work here?”
Do not share what you’ve read online. Let them talk. Their reactions will tell you all you need to know. Remember: Your goal is not to show how much you know, because that gains you nothing. Your goal is to confirm what you’ve read and to learn even more.
Leverage the job offer
This is the most powerful way to judge an employer. If you get an offer, they’ve demonstrated they want you — and they want you to say yes. They’re waiting. People don’t realize what incredible leverage they have at this point. It’s the most control you’ll ever have in negotiations. It’s time to vet the company.
Tell them you’re thrilled to get the offer – “Thank you!” Then take more control and learn the truth.
How to Say It
“Before I accept your offer, I’d like to meet some of your key people – managers of departments related to the department I’d be working in. I’d like to make sure I’m a fit for your team and I’d like to get the bigger picture of the work environment.”
For example, if you’d be working in manufacturing, you’d want to meet the heads of engineering and product development, because they create the products your team builds. You’d want to meet heads of sales and marketing, because their job is to make money from what manufacturing produces. If they’re not all great people doing great work, then your team (and you) will fail. Get the idea?
Find your own truth
Glassdoor and online company reviews are not the truth. They’re the partial, questionable truth. The best way to get the whole truth about a company is to talk to key people inside, and to talk with people you’d be working with every day. There is no need to bring up Glassdoor reviews. (You might find that the company’s reputation online is not deserved.) Get the facts for yourself.
Any company that declines to let you meet the people I’ve suggested – even though it’s an unusual request – probably has too many skeletons in its closet, or has a lousy attitude about transparency.
Formulate these questions in a way that’s comfortable for you. Don’t use my exact words. I like that you want to be respectful and well-mannered. Always assume the best, and politely ferret out the truth. Then deal with it, either way.
I hope this is helpful. It’s probably more work than you’d like to do, but consider what you’re investing here – the next several years of your work life. It’s worth the extra effort to find your own truth.
If you need more suggestions about how to vet this company, these two books will help. Check the tables of contents at these links:
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention
(See especially, “How to pick worthy companies,” “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” and “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies.”)
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers
(See especially, “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer,” “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” and “Judge the manager.”)
Do you trust anonymous company reviews? How do you get the truth about a company?